Washington, D.C. — A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the globe finds that most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics. In all but a handful of the 39 countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say that Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven and that belief in God is necessary to be a moral person. Many also think that their religious leaders should have at least some influence over political matters, and many express a desire for sharia – traditional Islamic law – to be recognized as the official law of their country. But the percentage of Muslims who say they want sharia to be “the official law of the land” varies widely, from fewer than one-in-ten in Azerbaijan (8%) to near unanimity in Afghanistan (99%).
At the same time, the survey finds that even in many countries where there is strong backing for sharia, most Muslims favor religious freedom for people of other faiths. In Pakistan, for example, three-quarters of Muslims say that non-Muslims are very free to practice their religion, and fully 96% of those who share this assessment say it is “a good thing.” Yet 84% of Pakistani Muslims favor enshrining sharia as official law. These seemingly divergent views are possible partly because most supporters of sharia in Pakistan – as in many other countries – think Islamic law should apply only to Muslims. Moreover, Muslims around the globe have differing understandings of what sharia means in practice.
The new survey report also allows some comparisons with prior Pew Research Center surveys of Muslims in the United States. Like most Muslims worldwide, U.S. Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society. But American Muslims are much more likely than Muslims in other countries to have close friends who do not share their faith, and they are much more open to the idea that many religions – not only Islam – can lead to eternal life in heaven. At the same time, U.S. Muslims are less inclined than their co-religionists around the globe to believe in evolution; on this subject, they are closer to U.S. Christians.
These are among the key findings of “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” which is based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in 80-plus languages with self-identified Muslims in 39 countries and territories. The survey was conducted in two waves. Fifteen sub-Saharan African countries with substantial Muslim populations were surveyed in 2008-2009, and some of those results were previously analyzed in the Pew Research Center’s 2010 report “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.” An additional 24 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe were surveyed in 2011-2012; results regarding religious beliefs and practices were first published in the Pew Research Center’s 2012 report “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.”
The new report, focusing on Muslims’ social and political attitudes, incorporates findings from both waves of the survey. It is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, an effort funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
Additional findings include:
- In most countries surveyed, majorities of Muslim women as well as men agree that a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. At the same time, majorities in many countries surveyed say a woman should be able to decide for herself whether to wear a veil.
- At least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they are concerned about religious extremist groups in their country, including two-thirds or more of Muslims in Egypt (67%), Tunisia (67%), Iraq (68%) and Indonesia (78%). On balance, more are worried about Islamic extremists than about Christian extremists.
- In most countries where a question about so-called “honor” killings was asked, majorities of Muslims say such killings are never justified. Only in two countries – Afghanistan and Iraq – do majorities condone extra-judicial executions of women who allegedly have shamed their families by engaging in premarital sex or adultery.
- Relatively few Muslims say that tensions between more religiously observant and less observant Muslims are a very big problem in their country. In most countries where the question was asked, Muslims also see little tension between members of Islam’s two major sects, Sunnis and Shias – though a third or more of Muslims in Pakistan (34%) and Lebanon (38%) consider Sunni-Shia conflict to be a very big problem.
- Support for making sharia the official law of the land tends to be higher in countries like Pakistan (84%) and Morocco (83%) where the constitution or basic laws favor Islam over other religions.
This study is being released in conjunction with a new website for the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project. The site allows users to explore demographic data and survey results collected by the Pew Research Center in many countries around the world. It includes data on: (1) characteristics of the populations of 232 countries and territories; (2) research questions related to government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in 198 countries and territories; and (3) select questions from two extensive public opinion surveys that cover more than 40 countries. The website will grow to include survey data from more countries and projected population figures for all 232 countries and territories covered by the project.
The full report, including a link to the new Global Religious Futures website, is available at pewforum.org.
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.